Fishermans Bend: dare to dream
As Nick Harrison has written today, Fishermans Bend is destined to be a true game changer in terms of urban density in Melbourne and our entire country. On one level it speaks volumes for the vision the powers-that-be have for the central core of our city and on another it is somewhat historic where all three entities - Spring Street, City of Melbourne and City of Port Phillip - have teamed up to produce a far more inclusive vision than either could have done in isolation.
Throughout the document suite which is now open for public comment, we see sensible compromise on scaling the new development zone from a strict (and appropriate) relatively low-density corridor fronting Williamstown and City Roads to having far more intense development occur further away. The big question still remains: intensive development enabling Public Transport.
Trams may be as Melbourne as AFL, but in the grand scheme of things I remain unconvinced of their ability to properly serve this new urban neighbourhood even in the early stages of the precinct's redevelopment. The vision documents outline Fishermans Bend will be staged - essentially correcting the mistake of Docklands - however public transport isolation from will ensure Fishermans Bend's potential is likely to be hampered owing to vehicular access being the primary mode of transport from the Western Suburbs.
The deep abyss the current Spring Street government is digging itself re: East-West tunnel project highlights the lip service, or rather hypocrisy, governments pay to the idea of curbing the sprawl-belt scourge. Here's a vision for an extraordinarily different "new suburb" for Melbourne yet the Liberal Party's obsession with roads = productivity and public transport = something else the lefties want is not going to do E-Gate, Arden-Macaulay or Dynon any favours by having massive road expansion prioritised first.
Furthermore what's happening with the Port of Melbourne? 40,000 jobs for Fishermans Bend is likely to be in the services sector and for them to be more productive with their time, they need better access to Public Transport.
If you go by the PTV heavy rail plan released earlier this year, Melbourne Metro is scheduled to go first which will increase capacity from Pakenham/Cranbourne to Sunbury/Melton, vice versa and everywhere in between. Thereafter the rail tunnel from Clifton Hill through Fishermans Bend is scheduled to be built (diverting Epping/South Morang services away from the loop in the process). The Clifton Hill - Fishermans Bend tunnel did get a "potential extension to Newport" mention in the PTV documentation, however I'd argue this is essential to open up job opportunities in Fishermans Bend for those who live in the West allowing the Williamstown/Altona branches to be diverted and run through the city to South Morang providing the same benefits as the Melbourne Metro tunnel.
East-West and then Melbourne Metro is likely to take 10-15 years to build - a long time - and circa $16-20 billion for both before the new tunnel from Clifton Hill could be built. Will trams cope?
Fishermans Bend is a 50 year project ultimately running side by side with other mooted redeveloped areas: E-Gate, City North and the Dynon Road/South Kensington urban bridge between the CBD/Docklands and Footscray. Nick quite rightly asks the question if Spring Street is so keen on curbing fringe development then why isn't Fishermans Bend and all the other aforementioned areas given a more speedier timeframe?
If we're going to keep living with the romantic "great Australian dream" of owning a home then let's innovate and kill the 'affordable housing only exists on the fringe' rhetroic and redirect transport funding into the heavy rail plan - it would allow Fishermans Bend, E-Gate, Arden-Macaulay & Dynon to redevelop earlier, provide inner city, middle ring and fringe dwellers far more frequent rail access and allow PTV to invest in the reallocation of road space in lower-density areas for road-based public transport modes connecting with the rail arteries.
Prefabrication & unitised building on many different scales is successfully used in other regions of the world - let's create a market for it in Fishermans Bend by lobbying the conservative financiers of Australia's banking world to create lending products specifically designed for this kind of development. Let's also give planning authorities teeth to reject mass site consolidation in Fishermans Bend and let's not forget the disadvantaged by encouraging developer and non-profit housing authority relationships to create a diverse set of neighbourhoods accessible for all.